Contamination | Invasion Survivor Book One | Chapter Twenty-Seven
Page didn’t want to let Willow go. It took so long to get to her that now, the knowledge that she had to leave her again was almost unbearable.
But it’s the right thing to do, she reminded herself, finally letting go.
“Right, so I’ll be back as soon as I can,” she repeated, clearly stalling.
“Don’t worry so much, Paige, I will take good care of her—as if she were my own sister,” AJ promised with a smile and placed an encouraging hand on her arm.
Paige was somewhat reassured. But telling her not to worry was pointless. It would be like telling her not to breathe. It couldn’t be done.
She’d already lost one sister, so all her feelings for Willow were intensified because of that.
“Thank you,” she replied simply.
Then she remembered something else—or more accurately, someone. Eric.
“Willow, did you find the kid called Eric?” she asked.
Willow nodded. “When they took the sick kids out they brought others in. That’s him.” Willow pointed to a little kid around her age. He had red hair and freckles like the photo, and his finger was up his nose like he was trying to dig his brain out. Bingo.
Paige headed over to him. “Hey, are you Eric Connor?”
“Yeh.” Eric pulled his finger out of his nose and inspected his boggy. Gross.
Paige was relieved that she’d found him. “Your mum has been looking for you. Your dad is on his way.”
Paige rang Sophie and passed the phone to Eric. She could hear the sobs of relief.
“I’m fine, Mom,” Eric told her before hanging up and handed the phone back.
“Mom says thanks.”
“You’re welcome.” Two down, one to go. I need to find Dave.
She searched for him, and just as if he was a mind reader, she spotted him jogging her way, zigzagging between the beds with an unfamiliar boy in tow.
His brother Peter, she guessed. She was relieved that he looked healthy as well.
“Hey,” Dave said, greeting them all once he neared them.
“This is my brother Peter,” he said. The boy waved and Paige did the same, smiling.
“Nice to meet you, Peter.”
Willow beamed, making the introductions as well.
AJ and Dave sized each other up, and AJ offered his hand. “Hi, I’m AJ.”
“Dave,” he replied.
Paige got impatient with all these greetings and politeness but once again, Dave beat her to the punch.
“So, what’s the plan?” Dave asked.
“I have to get my mother, then I will be back, and once here, we can all go to Maryland to meet up with my dad,” Paige explained in one breath, counting on the fact that her dad wouldn’t mind if she brought a few extra people.
“He has a plan,” she added vaguely. Paige didn’t want to divulge the information that they would all board a spaceship in the middle of the military base. Call her paranoid, but better safe than sorry.
“What about Willow?” Dave wanted to know, and Paige was touched that he remembered.
“I will take care of her while she’s away,” AJ jumped in to explain, sharing a wink with her sister.
“Okay,” Dave replied slowly, clearly thinking about something. “I’m coming with you,” he announced, and Paige was taken aback. But before she could decline his offer—even though he hadn’t phrased it as such—he continued speaking.
“I am sure AJ will extend the same courtesy to Peter, so I can tag along. Besides, we both know you would be lost without me.”
He deadpanned, and Paige snorted, crossing her arms across her chest. “Hardly.”
“Of course,” AJ replied, watching Dave and Paige with a small frown. “I will take care of Peter as well.”
“Great, then it’s settled,” Dave said, grinning. “Let’s go.” And with that, he turned toward his brother and after whispering a few words to him, while Peter nodded, Dave gave him a hug.
“Wait.” Paige. stopped him. “We can’t leave just yet,” she announced, taking Willow to the side.
“Do you have a few extra bracelets like this one?” Paige asked showing her wrist.
“Yes, I do,” Willow replied carefully. “Brooke gave me some so I could share them around to the glowing people.”
Paige cringed inwardly because there were so many things wrong with that sentence, but for now, she simply decided to go with the flow.
“Give me two,” Paige said impatiently, waiting for them with her palm open.
Willow reached into her pocket and sure enough, pulled a bunch of them out. Paige snatched two. “Thanks,” she said and jogged back to the boys.
Dave looked questioningly at her, but she simply shook her head.
“Don’t ask,” she warned, sparing him a headache before continuing.
“Give me your hand,” she commanded, and he did. She tied the bracelet with gemstones carefully around his wrist before repeating the process with Peter.
Satisfied that was done as well, she smiled.
“Now, we can go,” Paige announced, giving Willow a brief hug, knowing that if it was a full affair it would keep her there longer. She was on a tight schedule.
She started walking to the nearest guard, Dave close behind, when AJ stopped her. “Paige, wait up,” he yelled. She wanted to groan because, at this rate, they would never leave.
“Do you have your cell phone with you?” he asked unexpectedly, and she simply nodded, wondering why he wanted to know that.
Taking it from her pocket she said. “Yeah. I think I still have Internet as well,” she added.
He took the phone and started punching numbers.
“Here is my number,” he informed her. “If anything changes on both ends, let’s keep in touch.”
“Okay,” she replied, a little dumbfounded.
I should have thought of that, she chastised herself.
“And be careful, okay,” he added, flashing her favorite smile, and Paige really wished she didn’t turn bright red at that. “Will do,” she mumbled, getting the hell out of there.
As she stepped in front of the guard, he looked down at her and frowned. “May I help you?”
“We wish to leave,” she replied simply.
He nodded. “Wait here,” he countered, ducking out for a moment.
After he returned, he said. “You can leave if you pass the test again,” he informed them and Dave and Paige nodded in unison.
“Follow me,” he commanded. They ended up in a laboratory this time, and a lab worker drew some blood from them.
Paige wondered why the change but then it dawned on her. They spent a very short period of time at the base. Maybe this was the only way to be certain.
It wasn’t a big production, thank God. The technician simply pricked their fingers and placed their blood under the microscope.
“All clear,” he announced, and Paige was relieved. Not that she was worried.
Nope, not her, never.
Moving around the base is so much easier when you have a guard walking you out, Paige mused, remembering how she once got lost in one when she visited with her dad. Yup, she was tragic when orientation in space was concerned.
The guard didn’t talk much and had a really cool beard that would make any hipster from Brooklyn proud, not that she would ever tell him that. Because, despite it, he was also stocky, around her height, but there was no question about his deadliness. He carried himself with a certain air of danger and Paige was relieved he was on their side.
As they walked slowly toward the exit, she couldn’t help but think about AJ. She was happy he looked better because he was the one with a lot of responsibility at the moment.
He sometimes liked to goof around, but she had full confidence that he would look after Willow and Peter to the best of his abilities and protect them by any means necessary.
And her gut feeling told her they would all be all right.
Ironically, she’d spoken to him more in the last ten minutes than her whole time in school—and only blushed once, at the end.
Which is a personal record, thank you very much.
“So, AJ, huh?” Dave asked suddenly, snapping her from her reverie, and Paige actually panicked for a few seconds thinking maybe she’d said his name out loud.
“What about him?” she asked in return, faking ignorance.
Dave shrugged. “Nothin’. Just didn’t think you would go for the obvious choice,” he commented and she raised her eyebrows at him.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she wanted to know.
“Just what I said,” he replied stubbornly, and she felt like kicking him, but they were interrupted by their arrival at the gate.
Paige was pleased their motorbike was right where they had left it. As was her sword.
“Thank God,” she murmured. “It wasn’t stolen.”
Dave rolled his eyes at her. “Who would steal it in front of a military base where there are armed guards everywhere?”
When he put it like that...
“Point well taken.”
He jumped on the motorbike first. “So, where are we going?”
Instead of trying to explain it to him, Paige simply pulled her phone out and showed him the navigational map. The Internet was working, but she still had the screenshot, just in case. Besides, she had Dave as well.
“Okay,” he said, studying it for a minute. “Jump on.”
Pulling away from Fort Hamilton, Paige couldn’t help but think of Willow and AJ again. She was comforted by the fact that they would stay in touch, but she would still prefer it if there was a possibility for all of them to stay together.
The irony of that situation wasn’t lost on her either.
After all those years spent in school together, he’d only shared his number with her today.
Good thing it only took the end of the world for him to do that, Paige thought sarcastically.
But, nevertheless, it still made her happy.
River would be proud, she thought and snickered. She hoped that her friend would get better. If a bracelet could make her stop glowing, maybe there was a cure out there for River.
Paige looked up at the night stars, not sure what she was looking for, but she felt the answers were out there.
Her new bracelet caught the light from the street lights and the illumination danced across her sword, making her look more closely at it.
At the center of the hilt was a honey-gold gem, and a feeling of familiarity came over her, and not for the first time.
She had a strong sense that she’d seen something like it before but couldn’t seem to recall where. The knowledge, vague and incomplete, nagged relentlessly in the back of her mind, driving her insane.
“Are you going to tell me why you gave me jewelry?” Dave yelled over the noise of the engine once they finally got back on the road.
“It’s for protection,” she replied simply, not wanting to go into too many details with him about it now. Besides, she didn’t know what to think or how she felt about that whole situation herself, so how could she explain it to him?
And Brooke? That was a whole new can of worms she didn’t dare open.
What if Willow is telling the truth?
“Okay, but just know that I am flattered. I didn’t know we were at that stage of our relationship.”
Paige laughed and gave him a squeeze, loving that his humor could defuse tension so easily. He was a breath of fresh air in a place of too many confusing questions.
She had seen Willow glow. That couldn’t be faked and wasn’t a hallucination. Besides, what would be the point of tricking her?
On the other hand, an extremely deadly virus running rampant—a reality that intruded abruptly as she saw a horde of infected people running their way. They were, she realized, definitely in stage two.
“I think we should try a different route,” Dave suggested, screeching to a halt.
“Good idea.” Paige raised her sword so she could be ready if some of the group decided to attack.
Then, her mouth agape, she suddenly registered that something was very different. They are tracking a different target.
“Seedling, Seedling,” they chanted as if in some kind of a frenzied trance. “Must have a Seedling.”
Their voices faded a little once Dave turned around the corner.
Paige looked at her gemstone bracelet again and decided to keep it on, no matter what. Whatever the reason, it seemed to have worked nothing short of a miracle.
She honestly had no idea what was happening or why, but in the bigger scheme of things, these new developments had brought a measure of respite she hadn’t expected. While she couldn’t explain any of it, why look a gift horse in the mouth?
Having successfully managed a little of the confusion, it was time to refocus on her mom.
The real fun, she knew, would begin once they got there.
I don’t have the faintest idea how to convince her to come with me, Paige thought in exasperation. Then it occurred to her that her travel companion had no idea of her mom’s mental condition.
“Listen,” she said abruptly, and Dave leaned back so she could speak directly in his ear.
“Once we get there, I have to warn you…my mom...” She paused, a little embarrassed because she didn’t know how to finish that sentence.
She’d never liked the word “insane” and hated it when people used it about her mother, but “troubled” sounded equally bad. While those might define the cold reality, she had always felt guilty for using any of them because, to her, she was simply her mom. Despite all her quirks and episodes, she loved her dearly.
“I know what that place is, Paige,” Dave responded easily. “I understand. Everything will be fine.” He sounded calm and reassuring, but, as always, Paige had her doubts.
The mental institution her mother resided in was just ahead, a dark silhouette on the horizon. A part of Paige was relieved that they didn’t have miles to travel
She really didn’t want to move too far from the base in case Willow needed her, so she was glad that they were already there, even though the other part of her dreaded what lay ahead.
At least she hadn’t heard from AJ or Willow for a while. She took that as a sign that things were still good. If she didn’t have to worry about them, she could focus on getting her mom out of the Institute.
To her complete shock, her mother was already standing at the front door with all her bags packed, clearly waiting for her to arrive.
But how did she know? Did Willow phone her?
But they wouldn’t let her use the phone, she reminded herself, now more confused than ever. Still, she could have used AJ’s.
Her mom was completely alone outside, and Paige scowled her disapproval. She was supposed to be under constant supervision as she was prone to severe episodes, even while medicated.
Still, she didn’t look too bad. Her hair had been gathered into a messy knot on top of her head, and she wore a dirty pink robe over a few other layers of clothing. Nothing about that struck Paige as out of the ordinary, aside from her location.
They stopped beside her, and Paige slid off the motorcycle and went to greet her. She heaved an inward sigh of relief but remained wary because she didn’t know which version she would encounter.
Her mother looked at her as she approached, then glanced quickly at Dave before returning her gaze back to Paige again.
“What took you so long?” she asked in irritation, and Paige sighed.
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